Stonehenge is the ultimate historical mystery. One of the most famous landmarks in Britain, the unique stone circle situated in modern-day Wiltshire continues to confound historians and visitors alike. Despite extensive research and theorising, today we are really no closer to understanding how the stones were put there and why.
Amid this lack of clarity, here are 10 things we do know about this prehistoric monument.
1. It is really, really old
The site went through various transformations and didn’t begin as a ring of stones. The circular earth bank and ditch that surrounds the stones can be dated back to about 3100 BC, while the first stones are believed to have been raised at the site between 2400 and 2200 BC.
Over the next few hundred years, the stones were rearranged and new ones added, with the formation we know today being created between 1930 and 1600 BC.
2. It was created by a people who left no written records
This, of course, is the main reason why so many questions persist around the site.
3. It could have been a burial ground
In 2013, a team of archaeologists excavated the cremated remains of 50,000 bones at the site, belonging to 63 men, women and children. These bones date back as early as 3000 BC, though some are only dated back to 2500 BC. This suggests that Stonehenge may have been a burial ground at the start of its history, though it is not clear if that was the site’s primary purpose.
4. Some of the stones were brought from nearly 200 miles away
They were quarried at a town near the Welsh town of Maenclochog and somehow transported to Wiltshire – a feat that would have been a major technical accomplishment at the time.
5. They are known as “ringing rocks”
The monument’s stones possess unusual acoustic properties – when struck they produce a loud clanging sound – which likely explains why someone bothered to transport them over such a long distance. In certain ancient cultures, such rocks are believed to contain healing powers. In fact, Maenclochog mean “ringing rock”.
6. There is an Arthurian legend about Stonehenge
According to this legend, the wizard Merlin removed Stonehenge from Ireland, where it had been erected by giants, and rebuilt it in Wiltshire as a memorial to 3,000 nobles slain in battle with the Saxons.
7. The body of a decapitated man was excavated from the site
The 7th century Saxon man was found in 1923.
8. The earliest known realistic painting of Stonehenge was produced in the 16th century
Flemish artist Lucas de Heere painted the watercolour artwork on site, sometime between 1573 and 1575.
9. It was the cause of a battle in 1985
The Battle of the Beanfield was a clash between a convoy of approximately 600 New Age travellers and around 1,300 police that took place over the course of several hours on 1 June 1985. The battle erupted when the travellers, who were en route to Stonehenge to set up the Stonehenge Free Festival, were stopped at a police roadblock seven miles from the landmark.
The confrontation turned violent, with eight police and 16 travellers being hospitalised and 537 of the travellers arrested in one of the biggest mass arrests of civilians in English history.
10. It attracts more than a million visitors a year
The enduring myths surrounding Stonehenge make the UNESCO World Heritage Site hugely popular. When it first opened to the public as a tourist attraction in the 20th century, visitors were able to walk among the stones and even climb on them. However, due to serious erosion of the stones, the monument has been roped off since 1997, and visitors only allowed to view the stones from a distance.
Exceptions are made during the summer and winter solstices, and the spring and autumn equinoxes, however.